Ask Unclutterer: An art student’s dilemma

Unclutterer reader Jaclyn recently asked for suggestions regarding her particular artwork situation:

I have a bachelors degree in fine arts. Even though I graduated what seems like a lifetime ago, many of my old drawings, paintings, and prints lurk in a basement closet. I recently framed a pair of lithographs to hang over the couch, and they are a delight. However, I live in a relatively small house and have no desire to upsize any time soon, so even if everything felt worthy of public display, I wouldn’t have space for it. Some of my paintings are so big, I’m not sure I know anyone with a large enough home to accommodate them.

I’m interested to know what other former art students have done, and what suggestions you may have.

Jaclyn, I found an informal online poll on DeviantArt, a social network for artists and art enthusiasts, that might pertain to your dilemma. The majority of the responders kept all their old drawings and sketchbooks for various reasons: to see how their work has improved and evolved, to provide inspiration for new work, etc. For some, all this artwork serves the same function that diaries or journals might provide for other people — it’s an extremely sentimental record of their life.

The right answer for you would depend in part on your answers to the following questions, noting that you might have different answers for different pieces of art:

Why do you want to keep them?

If you’d like to display at least some of them, perhaps you can have more of them framed and rotate them out. For smaller pieces you could consider the dynamicFRAMES mentioned here on Unclutterer a number of years ago.

If you want them for the reasons those other artists listed, you could look for good storage tools that allow you to easily look through those items whenever you wish. For large drawings, you might want a flat file, a mobile trolley, or something similar. For canvases and framed artwork, you could use a rack that keeps those pieces upright. I’ve listed a number of other options for storing large pieces on the Core77 website.

If you want the personal history but feel less attached to the pieces, you might be okay with scanning or photographing your artwork and then letting the originals go. Scanning or photographing your favorite pieces might make sense even if you keep the originals, as this helps ensure you don’t lose the entire record of your work in case of fire, theft, water damage to your home, etc.

If you have smaller pieces you enjoy looking at but wouldn’t necessarily want to display, you could put some of these on the inside of cabinet or closet doors. I’ve done that with various pieces of art (not my own), and it makes me smile every time I open one of the doors.

How do you feel about giving away some pieces?

I don’t know if these are anything you could sell (or would want to sell), but someone I know who was in a similar situation sold some of her work on Etsy.

There are also a variety of ways you might give them away, beyond just offering them to those who’ve expressed an interest in specific pieces in the past. For example, if you’re on Facebook, you could post photos and ask your friends if they’d like any of them.

And if you’re okay with strangers owning some of them, you could try offering them on your local freecycle or Nextdoor group. I’ve successfully freecycled artwork in the past, although not specifically student drawings, and the prior owners have been happy to know the art is going to be displayed and enjoyed rather than tucked away in storage and never seen.

A note for those who are not art students: Similar questions can help when dealing with a whole range of things. There are many times when it makes sense to ask yourself:

  • Why am I keeping this item: for practical use, for decoration, for sentimental reasons, or something else?
  • What’s the best way to store it, to ensure it serves that purpose?
  • Would keeping a scan or a photo work as well as keeping the physical object?
  • What ways of selling, donating, or giving away something I decide not to keep would make me happy?

4 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: An art student’s dilemma”

  1. posted by G. on

    Another option might be to loan them to a local hospital, library, bank for temporary display. A bank nearby displays the art of local amateur artists on a rotating basis. A large hospital also displays art, some of it for sale, some not. As for those huge paintings, it seems to be a decorating trend to just sit them on the floor, often partially behind furniture.

  2. posted by Julia on

    Along a similar line – what to do with pieces I’ve picked up at art fairs over the years? Finding someone to give them to can be troublesome; they’re not valuable enough for a museum, but tossing them seems sort of insulting to the artist!

  3. posted by Pat Reble on

    Family members might really appreciate giving them wall space. If youphotograph them, you could offer the opportunity to family/friends to browse your virtual gallery and put their hands up for some of them.

  4. posted by Mike Hathaway on

    A couple of options. For canvas work that has dried you can consider removing them from the stretch frames and storing rolled or flat, depending on the fragility of the medium used. Then re-mount at a later time.

    I always second getting a good camera with a proper lens setting up a proper area with white walls lighting etc… and photographing/archiving everything. Then if god for bid you are hit by fire, water or theft you have everything.

    While its expensive with storage space going for 100 bucks plus per month consider a 55inch TV with an old computer or even an appletv. Set your archive up as a slide show or even better using a continually growing archive to show your work at all times. While a lot of people do fast slide shows, having an electronic display that rotates every hour or half hour is subtle and means when you look up its always different. This not only makes your gallery automatic and endless in size it can provide a spot of inspiration as an old piece you forgot about pops up as the solution to a current problem.

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